Robert George Torrens - A biographic note
This is an autobiographical note, type-written by my father, Robert George Torrens (4.8.1903 - 12.5.1981). I have the original in his papers. This version has been manually re-keyed into the computer.
Notes in square brackets are inserted by myself, Richard John Torrens, but the rest is transcribed verbatim from my father's note.
By R G Torrens
Born at Youghal, Co. Cork in 1903, of loyal and protestant parents. My father [John (Jack) Morrison Torrens (11.3.1877 - 22.2.1944)] was a Pharmaceutical Chemist, and optician and dentist. Educated at Clonmel Grammer School, entered Dental School at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1920, from which I graduated in 1924. I practised for a year in Youghall and then went to Bournemouth in 1926, in private practise, from 1934 I was a consultant Dental Surgeon till my retirement in 1969. In 1927 was made a Freeman of the Ancient Borough of Youghal by reason of birthright. [RGT's scrapbook contains a press cutting, dated 30th December, about this.]
Perhaps the best indication of the mutual antagonism between the two sides could best be summarised in a short paragraph published in the Sinn Fein News Letter called "Nationality", dated January, 12 1819 which ran:-
"Mr J. M. Torrens, chemist, 85 North Main Street, Youghal, and the Square, Tallow, is the Author of the following touching epistle in reply to an application for employment:-
"'Dear Sir - Your letter of 8th received. Before considering your application I would require an assurance that you are not fitted for active service. My late assistant is fighting for you and me in France, and I would not consider it fair to fill his place with a man that should be with him.'
"Mr. Torrens, however, is willing to sell pills and make up prescriptions for any persons fitted for active service who are supplied with money. He asks no questions and demands no assurances from them. Perhaps after this he will adorn his shops in Tallow and Youghal with the legend 'No person fitted for active service supplied', to show that he is not a secret boycotter."
A complimentary copy of this was sent to my father with the paragraph marked, and well demonstrated the atmosphere of those times.
As I was at school during the 1916 rebellion, the troubles were hardly noticed, but my first direct experience gave me a great shock.
On Sunday coming home from church about 12 noon, I was on the inside of the path, my father next and another man on the outside. This was about half way between Chapel Lane and the Clock Gate, on the North side of the roadway. Suddenly I heard footsteps behind and stepped backward to let the person pass. About 20 feet in front there walked The Chief Constable Roddoc [Note 1 and Note 2] of the district and a police officer, both being armed with revolvers. Next I was aware of a terrific bang next to my right ear, the intruder had fired a large revolver at the Chief Constable, and hit him in the right thigh. It may be that my movement disturbed the aim, otherwise he might have been killed. My father applied first aid and we took him to our house which was only a few hundred yards away. Later the officer told me that he tried to fire his gun at me, thinking I was the assassin, but was unable to release the safety catch, otherwise I would not be here to tell the tale. In the mean time the assailant had run away up Chapel Lane and disappeared. The wounded man lay in our lounge until the ambulance and guard arrived to escort him to hospital in Cork. (several photos)
A party of police officers paid a visit to the Waterford side of the Metal Bridge to bring his pension to a bedridden policeman. They were ambushed from the hill and Constable Prendergast [Note 3] was fatally wounded, the others scattered. This was about 11.30 in the morning, shortly afterwards Lady Brown was passing in her trap and she helped Constable P. into my father's pharmacy, where two doctors were waiting to assist. The bullet had penetrated his abdomen and he died shortly afterwards, leaving a wife and six young children.
My father received a letter from the County Inspector in Cork thanking him for his kindness and generosity in helping on the two recent occasions.
Mr A. Kidney was shot, and again my father rendered first aid.
A partner of my uncle, Mr Cathcart [Note 4] was shot in his home during the night. This was one of those brutal cases where a shotgun loaded with nuts and bolts and nails was used. I well remember seeing the walls on the stairway the next day which were in a dreadful state, peppered with holes and spattered with blood. The killing was a complete mystery as he was a harmless type of man. Years later I heard that he had written to Dublin Castle denouncing one of the local men, and this letter was as usual carried by plane from Cork to Dublin. On this occasion, however, the plane was shot down by the rebels and the letter was found. This was the only shooting of a plane about that time. [Note 5]
After a dance at the military barracks, at about 5.30 in the morning, three ex-soldiers and two young girls were shot at when returning home. One man died and another and one girl were seriously wounded. Next morning about 50 men of the Cameroons broke barracks and smashed most of he windows in the main street, including the Pharmacy. (Photos)
Mr. J. Quain, little more than a schoolboy, who I knew very well - his parents kept a fish shop in South Main Street - was shot by the marines near Piltown. There was a rumour that shooting while trying to escape was a method used to remove rebels, there was always a difficulty in getting convictions owing to sympathetic magistrates and juries.
At a match in Trinity College Cricket Ground between the military and the college, shots were fired over the boundary wall, mortally wounding one lady student, and wounding her lady friend.
Shops in Youghall shut on account of anniversary of Clonmult ambush.
Shops in Youghall were shut as a protest by labour on the conditions in the country.
Shops in Youghall shut Anniversary of shooting of J Quinn.
Free state troops landed on Pier Head and cleared town of IRA. Some days previously the IRA had been systematically blowing up the quays. They had started at the north end and had not quite completed their task when the troops landed on the south quay. (Photos)
- 24 & 25
Shops were closed on account of death of Michael Collins.
Father received an IRA notice to quit Ireland, which he ignored. This arrived with no stamp so he had to pay four pence for delivery, which annoyed him more than the notice. (The IRA would not use the King's head on stamps.)
I had to go to Liverpool and Cork by boat to get home from Dublin, because the railway lines were broken at Mallow. I passed over blown-up bridge at Mallow (on another occasion) and have a photograph of the break from the carriage window. I was watching the shelling of the Dublin Four Courts [note], and the burning of the Customs House and the departure of the British troups from the Dublin quays in 7.12.22. (Photos)
After the war had ended and I had qualified, I practised in Youghal for about a year, but found that there was not enough work to do, the locals had not been educated to demand dentistry. The bulk of the work was on market days when extractions at 2/6 a time were common. There was no health service to encourage patients. I decided to go to England.
Notes on above, added by Richard Torrens.
- The shelling of the Four Courts was at the end of June 1922 and the burning of the Custom House over a year earlier. RGT's memory has clearly elided the two!
The following notes are inserted as a result of emails between myself and Richard Hawkins of the Royal Irish Academy's Dictionary of Irish Biography project
- at that time 'chief constable' was not an R.I.C. rank - the most similar-sounding title was 'head constable', which denoted the highest non-commissioned rank in the force, directly below 'district inspector'.
- Jim Herlihy's The Royal Irish Constabulary: a complete alphabetical list of officers and men, 1816-1922 (Dublin, 1999) does not include a 'Roddoc'; there is a 'Roddon', but he would have joined the force over fifty years before the incident described and is most unlikely to have been still serving; a 'Roddick', who would have joined too recently to have been a head constable; and one 'Rodden', who is at least possible as far as dates are concerned.
- Constable Prendergast appears in Richard Abbott's book Police casualties 1919-22 (Cork and Dublin, 2000), p. 163, as Maurice Prendiville, service no. 57219, from Kerry, aged 45, married with five children, and with 25 years service in the R.I.C.
- The Irish Air Letter publication 'A history of the Royal Air Force and United States Naval Air Service in Ireland 1913-1923' (Killiney, Co. Dublin, 1988). Chapter 8 (pp 68-76) gives a list of aircraft losses between 4 May 1918 and 25 November 1922. It includes no incident of an aircraft being shot down, though there are many cases of forced landings; in several of these the aircraft concerned was attacked on the ground by IRA members, and in a few cases damaged or destroyed. By the spring of 1921 it seems to have been standard practice that the crew of a mail-carrying aircraft should, in the event of a forced landing without immediate prospect of rescue, destroy the mail. However, in at least one case (which occurred after the shooting of Mr Cathcart) mail that had been set on fire by the crew was recovered by the IRA with much of it still legible; see p. 73, incident of 20 May 1921.
Top of page
© 1999 - 2021 RJT
Page's Author: Richard Torrens
Document URI: www.torrens.org/Biography/rgt.html
Last modified: 2020